President Jacob Zuma welcomes media letters
10 September 2010
President Jacob Zuma has welcomed the letters he has received from various media groupings locally and internationally, raising their concerns about the Protection of Information Bill, as well as the ruling party’s Media Appeals Tribunal.
Among the correspondence received, are letters from media groupings, non-governmental organisations, concerned groupings of society, professional bodies, individuals and organisations, such as the Writers Against the Protection of Information Bill, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, Section 27, the Auckland Park Declaration, the Right to Know Campaign, South African Journalism Schools, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Agence France Presse, Bloomberg, the Associated Press, Reuters and others.
President Zuma wishes to assure the media groupings that government remains fully committed to media freedom as enshrined in the Constitution. He welcomes the inputs made to the debate in the public arena and also in Parliament at the public hearings, which indicates the vibrancy of South African society.
“We respect the Constitution of our country; we fought hard for it to be as progressive and as exemplary as it is. This Bill will not undermine the spirit of the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, and we wish to assure the media houses in that regard’, said President Zuma.
The aim of the Protection of Information Bill is to improve the security of the state with regards to the work of counter-espionage and information peddling, among other things.
Media comments and letters on the Media Appeals Tribunal have been forwarded to the ruling party.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE PROTECTION OF INFORMATION BILL
Government requires legislation to deal with modern day information challenges
• Modern day challenges of information peddling, increasing trend of espionage and theft of sensitive government information requires that government develops appropriate legislation, amongst other things, to deal with such challenges.
• Many examples exist of threats emanating both in our country as well as externally, in the region and the world.
• This Bill is meant to repeal an old 1982 apartheid Act which has provisions that are not suitable in our democratic dispensation.
• All democratic governments, the world over, promote openness and various rights related to freedom of expression. However, they also recognise that secrecy is an important element that is required to protect the very same democracy.
• The UK and many British colonies use the legislation which is based on their 1889 Official Secrets Act.
The Bill is not a ‘media bill’ and government has no intention of undermining freedom of expression
• The Bill before Parliament is neither a ‘media bill’ nor is it aimed at ‘curtailing media freedom’, as has been claimed by some critics.
• Government recognises and respects the role that media plays in strengthening the democratic system of governance
• Government respects the citizens' right of access to information as enshrined in the Constitution and will continue to ensure that its work does much more to safeguard this and other rights such as the freedom of expression
• It is simply not correct that this Bill is meant to hide corruption or inefficiencies within the broad system of government. In fact, it makes such a practice an offence.
Information that has been in the public domain will not be severely curtailed
• The Bill seeks to provide protection of information that has been, generally, not in the public domain in terms of existing legislation
• The protection is meant to deal with unlawful release, loss, alteration or destruction of such information, this to ensure that such information is safeguarded and actually kept within the system for later use.
Government respects the Constitution and will not pursue any legislation that is unconstitutional
• Government is obliged to conduct its business within the ambit of the Constitution
• It is the Constitution that directs how government business must be managed and government will not seek to undermine the spirit of the Constitution in any manner or form
The Bill provides for better management and safeguarding of certain information while promoting openness
• As the Bill stands, it describes in detail the requirements that must be fulfilled in classifying information, how the classified information must be handled and how the public can appeal for classified information to be made available, including the appeals procedure that allows members of the public to petition the courts, should they feel so.
• The Bill will, for the first time, make certain information available, through declassification. This will promote the free flow of information that has previously not been made available
Wrong doing and deliberate misuse and abuse of this Bill will result in criminal charges against government officials
• Any attempts, on the part of the Heads of Organs of State, to use the bill to hide illegal acts such as corruption and related matters, will be prosecuted.
• Government notes that the Bill is currently within the Parliamentary processes and is being considered by the Adhoc Committee.
• Government appreciates the work that the Committee has been doing, inviting the public to make their inputs and presentations.
• Government, through the Minister of State Security, has considered the valid and useful submissions made during the process of public hearings.
• The focus is on areas which may be broad and vague, with a potential to infringe on the constitutional framework of the country.
• The Minister will therefore table a comprehensive response to Parliament, when the Committee working on the Bill sits for its next meeting.
Enquiries: Zizi Kodwa 082 330 4910
ISSUED BY THE PRESIDENCY